It’s no secret that events are an important touchpoint for your association members and supporters, and might even be one of the first interactions they have with the organization. Making a good impression and helping your attendees feel welcome and included has always been important, but in today’s complex environment that often includes virtual and international or global audiences, planning events that are inclusive may require a more planful and intentional approach.
Inclusivity means providing equitable access to marginalized individuals. So, think about how certain groups could be limited from accessing your event. What steps could you take to make it easier? Keep these 7 things in mind when planning your next event.
Language matters. Include the option to provide preferred pronouns in your registration form. Then add the preferred pronouns to the attendees’ name badges. If some registrants didn’t include pronouns in the form, they may change their minds once they are onsite at the event. In this case, leave a space on the name badge for them to fill out pronouns themselves. You can also provide pronoun ribbons at the registration desk.
If your event is virtual, allow space in your online platform for attendees to put their pronouns if they choose to. It could even be as simple as adding pronouns to the end of one’s name in Zoom.
Always avoid “ist” or “phobic” language in all event communications (ableist, sexist, racist, homophobic, transphobic…) and all the other types of language that further marginalize a community. Sometimes this language can be subtle, or non-assuming, so consider providing marketing or published materials to a proofreader for review in advance to ensure you are not using any poor language choices.
Parents and Loved Ones
Keep in mind that you never know what anyone’s personal life circumstances are, especially when it comes to parents and family. Think about offering a mother’s room for nursing mothers, and/or a parent’s room for any parent to use if they have nursing babies with them. Some nursing babies may not have a breastfeeding abled parent, so a parent room can offer a private space for child care that is not limited to just breastfeeding parents.
Family caregiving responsibilities have been severely disrupted because of the COVID pandemic. Consider planning your events to allow for children to attend. Create registration packets for them, too, to go along with their guardians. Make it memorable to include a name badge, stickers, a few crayons, and paper to keep them entertained. This small gesture could go a long way.
Health Safety Comfortability
While in-person events are on the rise, the pandemic is not yet over, nor should we discredit the possibility of future pandemics. So, what can we do to make sure people feel safe and supported in their health needs while attending in-person events? Here are some considerations:
- Contract a health or pandemic compliance officer to have onsite
- Provide ribbons or bracelets of specific colors that indicate someone’s preference for physical contact with other attendees. Example: Green = hugs and high-fives, Yellow = close conversation is okay, Red = please do not approach
- Communicate the safety measures and protocols in advance to attendees
- Be very clear in your health expectations for attendees so that there are no surprises once an attendee gets onsite. Are you requiring vaccinations? Proof of a negative COVID test? Booster shots?
Some attendees may have additional accessibility needs. Some options to accommodate for this include:
- Add alternative text (alt-text) to images in event emails or on the event website. This is critical to help people who cannot see. The alt text describes the function and appearance of a photo or graphic, which often conveys critical information to the reader.
- Ask for attendee accessibility needs in the event registration form, and then do your best to accommodate them. This could mean providing interpreters, closed captioning, etc.
- Make sure your venue and event layout are conducive to those who use a wheelchair or have a guide dog.
- Review calendars of various religious and governmental holidays before scheduling your event.
- Consider for online events that not everyone will have reliable bandwidth or can easily navigate online platforms. You could provide links to free WiFi search engines, offer platform tutorials, and/or use a platform that can be accessed from a browser as opposed to just an app.
- Consider the cost of attendance. Many people are suffering financially during the pandemic.
Code of Conduct
A code of conduct establishes the tone of an event. Making sure your code is inclusive of all sets the standard moving forward. Put your code of conduct on the website and require attendees to agree to the code in the registration form. Attendees will feel secure knowing that everyone is being held to a specific standard.
If you want to get serious about inclusivity, take a hard look at who is speaking at your events. Are your speakers and presenters representative of the community of people you want to serve at your event? How are you seeking out the people who are selected to speak at your events? Your event attendees need to be able to see people who are like them at your event, especially in the speaker line-up. If you are not getting a diverse pool of speakers who are raising their hand to participate in your events, it is your responsibility to go and seek those people out and invite them to help add value to your programming.
Be an Ally
Remember to be an ally. Inclusivity initiatives will always be evolving and maturing. It is important you remain engaged and active in working to improve and remain critical of how well your events are working for all attendees. Create a DEI task force to keep your organization accountable for the latest DEI considerations. Another important aspect of creating an inclusive event is to ask for feedback from attendees. Being able to gauge how you are currently serving your attendees and what you can improve upon is priceless! Listen to that feedback and do your best to meet those needs to increase your inclusivity at events.
Now you have 7 simple and effective ways you can make changes to your planning so your events will be more welcoming and inclusive. We challenge you to continue learning so you can add to this list. Explore the vast amount of resources available to you online, and check out some that we have listed below. Remember that focusing on DEI is not a checkbox to be completed, it is a continuous journey and effort
NTEN. (2019, September 11). Updates on ’s diversity, equity, and inclusion work.
Whitehorne, S. (2019, December 19). Ideas for Making Your Conferences More Inclusive. Associations Now.
Wright, C. (2020, September 22). Inclusivity in Action: Best Practices For Making Your Virtual Event and Listing More Inclusive. Eventbrite US Blog.